Category Archives: Social Skills

Free Your Expression

I was out for my morning walk this morning, and I passed by an elementary school on my way. They were having a band practice, but it looked like the only people that were practicing were the clarinet players. They were all lined up against the fence, facing out towards the street. It sounded like they were warming up. I don’t know if somebody told them they had to go and practice where they wouldn’t bother anybody, but maybe that’s why they were aiming their clarinet sounds out towards the street, where it wouldn’t interfere with the students inside the school studying something important like plate tectonics or home economics.

I remembered I took a summer school class in fourth grade in home economics. My friend convinced me it would be a good idea, because we basically would be able to cook simple things (like a fourth grader could) like grilled cheeses and stuff. I remember that my friend and me were the only two guys in the class. It was a pity that we hadn’t discovered yet how cool girls were. We did learn how easy it was to cook a grilled cheese, so we wouldn’t have to bother our moms again. Except to yell at us to clean up our grilled cheese mess.

So as I was walking past this school, I looked over and thought I recognized one of the girls that was practicing clarinet. It was one of those times where you see somebody, and you can’t really place them immediately. But the circumstances don’t allow for you to go over and ask them where you know them from, either because you are too shy or they are on a bus going in the opposite direction. That is what it was like this morning. And I’m pretty sure she felt the same thing, because she was looking at me like she knew me.

As I kept turning my head back toward the group of girls, she raised her hand, but only about halfway. Like she wanted to wave, but she either didn’t know if I would reciprocate, or if her friends would think she was strange for waving at some weird guy walking by on the other side of the street. When she waved, I smiled and mimicked playing the clarinet, to signal my approval. Her friends all giggled at the exchange.

As I walked away, I realized that people go through three stages in life. The first stage, as children, we are outgoing and expressive and don’t hold anything back. Then when we go through those uncomfortable years, we learn that sometimes expressing ourselves is dangerous, scary, and brings much more emotional pain that pleasure. So we learn to have to choose when it’s safe to express ourselves, and when we’d better just stay silent. Then by the time we turn into adults, we have pretty much given up on freely expressing ourselves. We reserve that only for times we are with close friends, or inebriated, or both.

When you realize that everybody feels the same way, it can make it easier to be the first one. That young girl this morning, flanked by her clarinet-wielding friends, was the first to make a move, and look what happened. It turned into a positive, happy exchange. When you start to understand that all exchanges require that somebody make the first move, you can realize the power that comes from being that person. When you go first, and give the other person the wonderful gift of feeling the safety of self-expression, you will notice wonderful things happen. Your confidence will soar, your self-esteem will rise, and you happiness will skyrocket.

Whether you realize it or not, that little kid that wants to scream in pleasure whenever he or she sees something cool still lives inside you. When you remember to forget all those times it seemed like expressing yourself was emotionally painful, you can experience the joy of being totally and completely human. You will be able to let that little kid out again. And there is no fear in that.

Transfer of Resources

Last week I had dinner with a friend of mine. He was telling me about a problem that he was having at work. Not really a “problem” per se, more like an issue that had come up that he was wondering how he was going to resolve it. Even then it was really only an issue to him, and nobody else. He was a part time worker at an independent bookstore, and had been for several months. He reported directly to the owner of the bookstore, as it was a small store, and only had a few employees. It wasn’t like one of those huge chains that have about eighteen levels of middle management, with each manager only concerned with pleasing the person above them. Since this was her first store, my friends’ boss, the owner, was acutely aware of the day-to-day operations. It’s a tough gig these days to open up and run your own shop, as I’m sure you know.

The problem my friend was having was with an issue that had come up with stocking the shelves. He used to be an assistant manager at a grocery store, and was well aware of the strategies employed by large supermarkets to trick you into buying way more stuff that you’d originally intended. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going to the supermarket to pick out one or two items, and then ending up with a basket of stuff that disqualified you from the nine items or less line. I don’t even want to start on what happens when you go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.

But my friend was worried about talking to her. He didn’t want to approach her, because she had spent a lot more time in a book-selling environment than she did. But he was sure that if he applied his expertise learned from the supermarket, he could easily increase her sales, her profit, and likely her happiness. All it required was arranging the books that would allow people the opportunity to browse through more of the store, then just grabbing the recent best seller and then making a beeline for the register. Her store had many treasures that people would love to find, if only they had the opportunity. My friend was absolutely certain of this.

It’s interesting when you think about it. Somebody from a grocery store applying marketing techniques to a bookstore. People buy food and buy books for completely different reasons. You’d never think that a strategy in one environment would translate well into another environment. Some people have the mistaken belief that if you learn a skill in one area, that it can’t apply to many other areas of your life. Others have realized that you can take something that works, and apply it in other places. One of the great things about being human is your inherent ability to find all kinds of resources that you already have and apply them in other areas of your life.

Which is finally what my friend did. He finally got up the courage to go and talk to her, and express his desires and convince her to let him help her. Because he was able to speak with confidence, and that he had her best interests in mind, she was able to accept his ideas. When I spoke with him last night, he said that they had spent the last two days rearranging the bookstore per his experience. And they were both much happier for it. He for being able to express himself and his ideas, and she for being able to discover a new way to increase her business.


The Power of Pacing and Leading

I love to cook. Even more than loving to cook I love to eat. And when I like to cook, I like to use many gadgets to help me in those endeavors. One of my weaknesses in life is buying stuff that I really don’t need. I don’t know what it is, maybe I have a weak resistance to an effective sales pitch. Maybe I like to imagine all the wonderful ways I can use that gizmo that looks so incredibly cool here in the store or on TV. Most of the time, when I buy something, I really enjoy it for a while until it loses it’s luster. Then I go and buy something else. Rarely do I ever regret making a purchase. Once I bought a kitchen gadget from an infomercial, used it frequently, and then saw the commercial again. It was such a persuasive commercial, I was tempted to buy another one.

If you can turn off your automatic impulse buying response for a moment, you can learn a lot about persuasion from those infomercials. They grab your attention, lead you through a fantastically engineered sales presentation, and then make you think that you can’t afford not to buy what they are selling. Two of the techniques that they use fairly well are the principles of pacing and leading.

If you’ve read my article on rapport, then you know what I mean when I say pacing. Pacing is when you match the other persons reality as much as possible. You do and say things that they will agree with. You do this enough times that they slowly begin to turn off that “critical factor” that we all have in our brains that tell us be careful of things that we are not sure of. Once this “critical factor” is shut off, we will follow anybody,  anywhere. If you can pace somebody to the state where they have shut this off, you will be in a good position to begin to lead them.

When leading somebody, it is important to take them in small baby steps first. If you ask them to take a big step too soon, it will jar them back behind the protective guidance of their critical factor. If you’ve ever bought something from an infomercial, you’ve realized that the whole system is seamlessly set up to increase the amount of money you’ll spend. You start to watch the show. They are talking about how you hate to cook (uh huh). You have a long day at work, and when you come home you don’t want to slave away in the kitchen (uh huh). You wish there were a better way (uh huh). You’d like to spend only  few minutes to create a delicious meal for the whole family (uh huh).

Wouldn’t you know it? Here we have a brand new tool that can help you! (ok!) You can use this tool to slice (ok!), dice, (ok!) and puree (ok!)! And it’s not three hundred dollars, not even two hundred dollars, not even one hundred dollars. You can buy now (ok!) for the low low price of 39.95 (ok!).

Think about the actual product you are getting for your money. If you were sitting at home, and some guy knocked on your door, with the exact same product with the exact same price, you’d likely tell him no thanks. But watch a twenty minute infomercial, complete with studio audience and genius level engineered persuasion tactics, and you are rushing for your phone with your credit card in hand.

Same product and price, but two completely different methods of information delivery. Do you think it pays to be able to harness the power of persuasion? Do you think you owe it to yourself to learn this powerful technology?

Who would you rather be, the poor guy going door to door and getting rejected over and over, or the multi millionaire selling the same product on TV? Stay tuned for more articles on how to become a powerful persuader. Bookmark this page so you can come back and read articles under the “persuasion” category any time.


Sing Your Truth

I was watching this documentary about the power of music. It was about how music has been used for tens of thousands of years from primitive tribes to modern times to convey emotional stories filled with hidden esoteric meanings. I remember when I took a piano class a few years ago, and the instructor was saying how music is an integral part to our deep psyche. When we are in the womb, we hear the thump thump thump of our mother’s heart, pumping the blood carrying nutrients not only to her body, but directly to ours as well.

Then when we are born we have that thump thump thump always going. The consistent steady beat that circulates our body with life itself. Night and day, the cycle of the seasons, and the moon and the tides are all reminders that we are in a rhythmic cycle within a rhythmic cycle within a rhythmic cycle. All the world’s religions use music or chanting of some sort to connect to the divine. Whales sing to each other. Even dolphins communicate in a sing song click click that scientists believe conveys meaning through it’s frequency, as does the caws of crows, and the singing of larks.

Brain waves themselves can be altered by music. Anthropologists believe this was the primary driving force behind the propensity for primitive tribes to gather in sacred places and play their drums in specific frequencies. These drum beats literally lowered the brain waves of the participants to levels that allowed for states of hypnogogic imagery and creativity.

Music can be created to deliver emotions of all ranges. Music can soothe your soul, lighten your heart, and bring tears to your eyes, all within minutes. Evolutionary biologists believe that singing in birds is primarily to attract mates. They also postulate that the factor behind the explosive growth of the human brain over the past million years was due to exactly that. Sexual competition within the species over the hundreds of millennia. Is it any wonder that rock stars are known for the flocks of groupies that literally throw themselves at them?

It’s one thing to write sweet words, it’s yet another to say them. But it’s on an entirely different level of evolutionary success to belt out a song with a thumping beat to back you up. Where I live, karaoke is very popular, but many people are too shy to sing in front of friends, or feel the need to lubricate themselves before they feel comfortable. Their missing out on one of the greatest ways to kill that imaginary shell that keeps you inside your imagination.

What if it turns out that it wasn’t the quality of the song that drove us to evolutionary leaps, but the courage to boldly stand up and sing without fear, without quarter and with unabashed confidence? What if it wasn’t the words at all, but the bass in our voice, and the flamboyant charisma that their sound created? Think about this next time you have the opportunity to sing. Don’t let it pass you by. Take it. Make it yours. Sing your truth.


Bite into Interest to Create New Friends

I was riding the train home from the mall this evening. The weather was kind of dreary, and the digital camera I was looking for wasn’t in the electronic store that I thought it would be in. I want to buy a video camera so I can start posting video logs. I think that will be fun. Also, table I usually sit at in my favorite coffee shop inside the bookstore in the mall had been taken, so I had to sit someplace else. Of course, that didn’t stop me from making my usual observations and journal ideas as I sipped my black iced tea. But on the train, I was sitting across from this woman, who’d I put in her mid fifties, that was very bored. She looked like I felt. So I wondered what would happen if I started a conversation.

Conversations can be tricky sometimes. Like Forest Gump says, you really don’t know what’s inside unless you bite into it. Sometimes you’ll see a really mean looking person, and when you start to talk to them, they turn into the friendliest person you could ever meet. Other times, somebody seems to projecting an aura of friendliness and kindness, but once you start to talk to them, they look at you as if you’d just ran over their puppy. People can be extremely interesting.

I was reading this book, and it was saying that you really do have the power to find this interesting. It’s like a movie. Sometimes you don’t find this movie very compelling, other times you just have to keep your eyes focused on this. He said that the more you can choose to feel interested, the easier it gets. It was kind of a strange concept, purposely turning up your interest level so you can find something very intriguing that you wouldn’t normally do. I guess like everything else, it takes practice. He compared it to a situation when you meet a new boss that you will be working closely with. At first blush, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d want to spend more than five minutes or so in a bar, but since you are in a situation where you have to interact with this person, you somehow find a way to find interest in the same things he does. It’s almost as if by pretending, you actually generate strong interest. I know more than a few marriages where the wife will say at first she wasn’t interested, but this guy kind of grew on her. Persistence pays.

So I asked the woman where she was going this evening, and she said she was going to the airport to see her daughter who was away at university. The reason she looked so bored was that she just hates to travel. She said that she would much rather use those devices on star trek, where you just disappear one place, and then reappear in another place. That kicked off a great conversation about high tech electronic gadgets and where we’d be without them. Which just goes to show you, you never know until you bite right into it and see what’s inside.


Fight For What You Want

Last week I was having a look around in the university library near my apartment. I was looking for a particular book on psychology that was recommended to me by a friend, but I wasn’t having any luck. I had been looking for a few hours. And I really wasn’t interested in finding anything else, I was ready to give up hope. I had scanned the medical section several times, as it was a book on clinical psychology. I was really depressed. You know you get. When you start to wonder if you will ever find what you are looking for. Not only do you start to feel depressed because you can’t find what you are looking for, you start to wonder what else you could have been doing with your time that you’ve wasted. Normally I love going to the library, because there so many fascinating things you can find there, but not that day. I felt like some goldfish stuck in a dirty fishbowl that keeps swimming around hoping to find a way out.

I went to the new aquarium downtown, and they have some interesting fish. They have these fish that eat small fish like things, then have these bigger fish that eat actual fish, then they have fish so big that they need to feed them chunks of meat. There was one fish tank that had several fish of different sizes. I don’t know if they were different ages, or something else, but I’m pretty sure they were the same species, because they all had the same blue and silver design on their sides. It was really interesting to watch them being fed. The guy would come in at the same time every day, and throw in a bunch of food, which I think he said were dried squid flakes or something. And the fish would scramble and crash into one another as they would fight for the food. The cool thing was, the smallest fish never seemed to give up. He always seemed to keep trying regardless of how many times he got bumped out of the way. It was like he knew that if he was able to keep trying, he would get what he was after.

He (or she, I’m not sure how to tell boy fish from girl fish) reminded me of a professor I had at university. He was a math professor, but he was very opinionated in matters other than math. He said the difference in life between winners and losers has nothing to do with intelligence or upbringing, or social skills or anything that you’d normally think of. He said that winners are the people that simply never give up. Losers always find a reason to stop trying, while winners always find a reason to keep trying. He kept mentioning this old Chinese proverb: “If you wait by the riverside long enough, you will see the bodies of your enemies floating by.” I’m not sure if I wanted to see the bodies of my enemies, but it was an interesting point. He kept telling us that winners know that failure is only one step closer to success, and in reality, there is no failure if you alwasy learn something. Interesting thought.

And it turns out that particular brand of fish is the kind where there are literally hundreds born in every litter (or whatever they call a bunch of baby fish) but only three or four survive. It’s natures way of making sure that only the fittest live long enough to make more fish. So that little fish, simply by staying alive and fighting for what he wanted, was proving to the world how worthy he thought he was.

Finally, a really nice receptionist asked me if I was looking for something in particular. The only reason it took her so long to ask me was the incredible scowl on my face. It turned out that somebody had misplaced that particular book, and had filed it downstairs in the engineering department. Had she not asked me, I would never have found it.


The Ancient Power of Idle Gossip

One of the things that I find really fascinating about talking to as many people as I do on a daily basis is that despite how anxious or chaotic their lives are, or how many things they have on their plates, they can always find time to talk about seemingly inconsequential things. I say seemingly inconsequential only because it appears that way on the surface. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that peoples day to day lives, as reflected in their conversations are rather mundane. The more you think about this, the more you can’t help but realize that language itself is one of the most least understood yet most fascinating things that you can begin to understand.

I was reading this book on evolutionary psychology. Some of it was kind of out there. Because of course, despite the commonly held belief that evolution is a scientific fact, it is still largely an unproven theory that people mistakenly believe as fact simply because it is accepted as such. It’s amazing when you study the history of scientific belief.  There are wild things that people believed that seem foolish in retrospect, but when you consider that it really wasn’t too long ago that most scientists believed the world was flat, you can’t help but to take currently held ‘truths’ with a grain of salt.

The purpose of language, for example, is a hotly contested topic among evolutionary biologists. Some believe that the same forces that drove spoken language in humans are the of the same reason that chimps groom each other. Both are thought to server the purpose of a way to determine where people are with respect to the current social hierarchy. According to that theory, the purpose of language is for gossip, to determine who is doing what with who and for what reason. While that may not be the specific reason, it is no stretch to look around and see that idle gossip is strongly compelling to most people.

One of the questions I get emailed to me the most often from people who read this blog on a regular basis is where I get all my ideas from. Although I admit that some people claim that I make this up as I go along, if you read some of my earlier posts, you’ll find that I have been interested in human development and maximizing my own achievement for quite some time now. When you think about it, communicating is a lot more complicated that just idle gossip, even if the surface structure of the conversation only seems to be concerned with daily events and relationships. Your individual history, your beliefs about the world, and your outlook on your own future all play a huge, unconscious role in shaping the language that you use. When you decide let go and release any fears that you may have, you can really begin to communicate more congruently. And when you do that, you can’t help but to be breath of fresh air to all who you come in contact with. One of the ways to become fully human is to stop looking for somebody that has the answers, and simply be that person that can help others find their own answers within.

Of course, there are many other theories of the origins of language. God made us the way we are, complete with our language ability. Or God had hand in guiding our evolution, so he was there helping us out along the way. Or if you don’t believe in God, there are other, more scientifically believable theories. Ancient tribes needed to communicate with each other so they could collectively remember where the dangerous animals lived. They had to communicate in order to organize effective hunting parties. They had to communicate well to plan for the coming winter.

It’s amazing the different theories that they come up with over time. Which is really fascinating. The more they begin to develop ways and machines that can peak inside our brains to see exactly how they work, they will begin to come up with even more abstract and wonderful ideas. And coming up with abstract and wonderful ideas is a fantastic sign of our humanity, which is alwasy driven to learn new things. 

I’m not saying you should keep all this in mind next time your are talking about who is dating who, or who is thinking of breaking up with who. I think a better idea would just be to become aware that there is a level of complexity that is just below the surface of the everyday sentences and nouns and verbs that people throw at each other without much thought, and to let these ideas come up whenever you are ready to think about them.


Tap The Power of Realistic Expectations for Incredibly Happy Relationships

Today in my neighborhood, the weather is unseasonably warm. Which is nice, because it’s still winter (or at least it was when I wrote this, now.) It’s nice to have a warm day every now and then when you don’t expect it. It breaks up the monotony of the coldness that I’m used to when I wake up in the morning. And since I try to wake up early every day, I enjoy having the sun just a little bit warmer than I expect it to be.

It’s like when I go to the movies. I am pretty easy to impress and entertain. Sometimes I read the reviews of movies I want to see, sometimes I don’t. An interesting thing that I’ve found was that when I read a particularly unflattering review of a movie, it allows me to enjoy this more, because I go in with less expectations. Like when you really expect to enjoy something, you sometimes can have an unconsciously higher standard that is harder for something to live up to.

I guess that is why on the stock market they always wait and see if earnings beat the markets expectations. Even ones that don’t make a lot of money, if they make more than the analysts have expected, then the stock will go up on that particular day. I remember a company I used to work for had a stock that performed tremendously well. The company had earnings in excess of one dollar per share, which is a lot. One particular day, when the earnings came out, they were only 99 cents a share instead of a dollar a share. Any company that earns 99 cents a share is a very financially stable company, so imagine the surprise when the stock went down almost 4 percent that day because it “didn’t meet the analysts expectations.”

It reminds me of a book I read on self improvement. If I remember correctly, it was a relationships book. And they key to having a happy relationship was having accurate expectations on what to get out of the relationship. Because when you are with somebody, and you find this person interesting, you have to make sure that you like this person because of real reasons, and not imaginary ones. Because when you start to expect reality to behave based on your imagination, and not an accurate assessment of what is out there, you can run into trouble. The book went on to say that one of the best ways to have a really good, solid relationship with somebody was to establish solid expectations based on communication, and your own observations of each other’s behavior in certain circumstances.

My friend, who is married with three kids told me about this. As soon as he learned to plan ahead for his family taking almost an hour sometimes to get ready to leave the house, he was able to make plans, carry out these plans, without having the added stress of expecting his family to meet unrealistic expectations. He said that in the beginning, when it was only him and his wife, he could kind of push for her to be ready earlier, but the more people they added to the family, the more impossible this got. So he naturally realized that the best way to reduce stress, when other people are involved, is to stand back, and watch their behavior, and plan your activities based on reality rather than fantasy.

Which I have gotten down to a science. I used to rush to the movies, buy my large popcorn and coke, then rush to the theater to sit down. It took me about three months of willpower to not eat all my popcorn before the trailers finished showing. Now I usually get to my seat just as the real movie is starting. I’ve learned to ignore the stated start times in the newspaper, and use my experience as a guide. I find that is much easier, because I’d rather enjoy my popcorn while watching the movie I came to see, rather than the movies I’ll most likely come to see in the future.


Overcome Shyness Through Friendly Conversation

I ran into a friend the other day on the train. I didn’t notice her at first, because she looked different. You know when you see somebody you are pretty sure that you know, but it takes a few moments for you to remember exactly where you know them from? This was one of those times. She was sitting directly across from me, and was reading some book. It didn’t look like a novel, rather it looked like some kind of trade paperback or something. It was actually her that recognized me, as I was craning my neck around to try and see the title she was reading.

She said my name, and could tell by my expression that I couldn’t remember exactly who she was. I think it is fascinating that women are much better at this kind of thing that men are. I played a game once with a group of people called ‘liars.’ People got into groups of three, and then decided amongst themselves which one would tell a true story, and which would tell a lie. There was always one liar and two truth tellers. The game was to keep asking questions until you could catch the liar in a lie. The women are almost always better at this than men.

I read an interesting book once that I think explained it. It said that this was a leftover trait of our hunter/gatherer past. Men would generally go out and look for things to kill (hunt) and women would stay home at the caves, and take care of the kids and collect fruit and stuff (gather.) And this book was saying that women were able to develop a skill that allowed them to really be able to read peoples emotions a lot better than men. I guess this is a lot easier when you can understand your own emotions. And since women are much better at this than men, they are better at being able to read facial expressions much better.

And as it turns out, my friend was reading the classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. She said that she was enrolled in a public speaking class through her company, and the book was required reading. She said that she decided to read this book a long time ago, and did, but since she forgot a lot of the important stuff, she made the decision to read this again. She told me that when you find something that is of value, it’s important to read this over and over to make sure you can squeeze every useful thing out of it.

And it turns out that is why I didn’t recognize her. She used to be a really shy person. When she walked, she never really was ever able to make eye contact with people, and usually had her shoulders slumped. You had to get to know her before she was comfortable in expressing herself. It was only then that you could discover what a great person she was. Now she is really enthusiastic about public speaking. She says that when you don’t express your true self to others, you really are doing yourself and others a disservice. Because when you can really feel comfortable to be able to express yourself without any fear or anxiety, people can have a chance to get to know you for who you really are. Which is likely a pretty cool person when you think of all the good stuff you’ve done in your life.

Come to think of it, she’s always been a pretty supportive person. And now she’s happy that she doesn’t have to wade through her shyness to let people discover her. Kind of cool when you think about it.

Unfortunately, she was getting off at the next stop, and I had a few stops to go. But it was good that I saw her. We’ll have to get together sometime in the future.